A Mystery Solved: Hardwood Mats, Trees, and Seedlings
Last week in the chaos and flurry of voracious learning, we flew right through learning about the sprout stage of tree development. Obviously that stage is a pretty big deal, as there is no way you can just skip a step in the maturation process. So we are going to rewind and give a little recap and some more attention to the sprout stage of tree growth and development. Just as a quick reminder, we’re here talking about the lifecycle of trees because we are pretty much obsessed with hardwood mats, crane mats, bridge mats, board roads, swamp mats and rig mats, and it only seems fitting that we talk about every conceivable thing pertaining to this product and this industry… hence all the talk about trees and their lifecycles (trees are the raw material that are used to make hardwood mats, just in case that wasn’t clear in our little explanation). So, let’s get right into and start talking about the sprout and then the seedling. Oh, and just as a side note, you may remember that last week I wondered why I kept mistyping the word “life” as “lyfe.” Well if the reasoning behind this weird little thing haunted your thoughts as it did mine, I apologize and I offer you what I think is a pretty good explanation. We’ve been talking about the lifecycle of a tree for quite some time, and as you may be suspecting, I think I defaulted to sticking that “y” in there even when it didn’t belong. Whew! I’m glad we could close that unsolved mystery. Now, enough with pointlessly explaining typing quirks and typo tendencies, let’s talk trees!
The sprout stage, which we talked about last time, is a pretty substantial and miraculous stage. The idea that a seed can consume its built-in energy supply and root itself downward while reaching a sprout upward in search of light is a pretty astounding feat. Chew on that incredible thing and let it ruminate in your mind. It is a seemingly simple process (you just stick a seed in the ground and it grows) with incredible complexity at its core. With that magic rehashed, let’s look at the next stage in a tree’s life; the seedling. I know, it seems like seedling would be the next step after the seed, but it turns out it isn’t. Once the seed has sprouted and found light, it begins putting out needles, leaves, and scales and generating energy from sunlight. This is where things get interesting and where we’ll pick up next time, as we look more at seedlings.
From Sprout to Hardwood Mat
We’re diving right in to talking about the lifecycle of trees and the intricacies involved in the growth and production of lumber, so suit up, don your wetsuit, air tank, goggles and flippers and let’s get started. We spent a little time recently looking at the seed stage of trees and some of the interesting and hardwood mat relevant information there was to be had there. We learned a ton and really whetted our whistles for learning more and moving on to the next stage of growth in the tree lifecycle. (This is a completely random aside, but do you ever have those days where you don’t know why, but you just keep typing “lyfe” instead of “life?” Well I certainly have and today is definitely another! I can’t help but wonder why… but I guess that’s not why we’re here, so let’s forget we ever talked about this and get back to the good stuff). The next stage after a seed in the great circle of tree life is what? Come on, I know you’ve got that knowledge tucked away somewhere in that supercomputer behind your eyes. You got it! The next stage is the sprout stage. This is characterized by the seedling actually breaking out from the cold earth and sending up a tiny sprig of life. It is truly incredible to think about a tiny seed somehow knowing which way is up, and sending a chute toward the surface. Once there, the sprout quickly begins to absorb nutrients and reach skyward while its roots begin to send their fingers deeper into the ground. This typically starts with a primary root or taproot and branches off from there into an incredibly complex and tangled web of nutrient grabbing root structures. Just to refresh you as to why this is important. These tiny little sprouts, with the proper care and thinning, become fully grow hardwood trees, which, as you all know, can become the tried and true, ruddy and strong hardwood mat or crane mat. There are a lot of steps in the middle, but we want to keep our eyes on the prize, and the ultimate goal of why we are here and why we’re spending the precious resource of time on the roots is all for the precious resource of lumber.
Hardwood Mat Education
Last time we gathered together on this virtual hardwood mat soapbox, we hopped on the educational policy train and tooted our horn. We think hardwood mats are great and want everyone to know about them. So, why not teach of their utility and effectiveness in the classrooms of our children or future children? It’s a great idea right? Without getting manic about hardwood mats, we did take some time to reflect about our ideas and realize, not everyone is ready to learn about hardwood mats when they are 10. I sure was, but I don’t count myself as the epitome of normal. So maybe we’ll just let educators decide whether the brilliant minds of the future are ready for this kind of earth shattering information (I guess it’s more of an earth sheltering, or ground stabilizing sort of thing when you really think about it. Boom! Hardwood mat joke right there! Gotcha!). So, with that all said and with our mission last week of succinctly describing the value of hardwood mats done, we can move on to our in depth look at where hardwood mats come from. In case you missed it last time, we basically summed up hardwood mats as the solution to the problem of restricted access as a result of fragile or unstable land. Now let’s resume our study of the tree lifecycle.
Trees might not seem very complicated from the outside looking in, but as with most things, there is a world of nuance and intricacy when you really start to look at it a little more closely. The vascular system of a tree is, alone, enough of a fascinating and complicated subject to occupy us for the next three weeks. We’re not going to put you through that though, as most of you are probably not botanists or arborists. If you are, we’ll do our best to keep you interested all the same. If you’re wondering how we’re going to get started and dispense with some valuable information this week (seeing as our time is almost up), you are awfully perceptive and deserve a pat on the back. We’re not going to have time in this installment to get back into it, but you can be your bottom dollar we will dive right in next time.
Fundamental Questions and Hardwood Mats
What is a hardwood mat? Where do they come from? Why are we here? These are some of the most fundamental questions that can be asked, and we’ve taken it upon ourselves not to rest until these questions, or at least most of them, have been answered to a satisfactory degree. To some extent, this has already been accomplished, but to another extent, these questions and their associated answers really have no end. They are of infinite proportions and require much thought, articulation, and searching. So, let’s keeps searching, digging, and discovering. We’ve been looking at the lifecycle and arc of hardwood trees and have been, in turn, learning a ton about hardwood mats. We are going to continue that same progression of discovery, but first we are going to take a minute to answer an often posed question. Now, to most of you reading this, the question that follows might seem immature and naive, and by all means, you are welcomed to think what you want, but there are a lot of people out there just trying to wrap their heads around hardwood mats for the first time. Granted, they probably aren’t digging too deeply into the nature of hardwood mats and are really probably a) looking for a quick answer to satiate their curiosity, or b) trying to find a one line explanation to pass some test or to answer some question in their homework. I’m not sure if hardwood mat and crane mat trivia and knowledge has made its way into our schools or into standardized testing for our children, but this stuff is important. Perhaps petitions are in order. School board members and laypeople alike should join hands to bring this kind of education into our classrooms and into the malleable and brilliant minds of tomorrow. Why? Well, I suppose that brings us back to our agenda of giving a quick explanation as to the utility and purpose of hardwood mats and crane mats before continuing on with our biological dissection of raw material that makes up these products. Why are hardwood mats so great? Because Bob in Indiana might just so happen to need to move massive machinery and workers into a mushy, marshy, remote piece of land and he needs to do it without destroying the land or his equipment. What is Bob to do? Simple: mats – board roads, bridge mats, crane mats, and log roads. Next?
A Lifecycle Explored
We’ve been looking a bit closer at the lifecycle of a tree, closer than your ordinary everyday glance might afford. We got pretty into the whole thing and almost broke into song in our last installment, so watch out, this one could get crazy! We previously just started to touch on the stages of the cycle: seed, sapling, maturity, decline, and snag/rotting log. Now we are going to dig in and see what there is to see in each of these stages. Before that though, in the interest of science, and hardwood mats of course, it is important to recognize that for the full lifecycle to be achieved, internal and external conditions must be just right. This includes not getting cut down to early (that’s a big strike in the life cycle trajectory of our trees that are used for hardwood mats!), adequate space, nutrients, sunlight and water. Of course, even if all the ideal conditions are in place, there is still risk of disease, damage from insects, competition among other trees, injuries, and weather threats. All these factors are monitored and carefully managed on plots where the objective to produce trees for lumber applications. So zooming in on the seed stage, we find at its root some pretty fascinating stuff. Seeds can range dramatically in size, weight, color, and just about every other identifiable feature. Seed develop from both male and female tree parts and are formed within the fruit of the tree. That fruit can be a nut, a fleshy fruit like a peach, or even a pinecone. Seeds are dispersed via natural and unnatural elements and can begin the lifecycle of the tree wherever they land. In a controlled lumber operation, the placement of the seed is obviously very intentional, although in nature, it is often entirely random. Soon we are going to get into the next stage of growth (the sprout stage) but until then, I want to leave you with a question. I guess it really is the proverbial question: which came first, the seed or the tree. Let that work on you for a few days, then meet us back here for some debriefing and some more exploration in the vast and ever-expanding world of hardwood mats, crane mats, bridge roads, laminated mats, and the lumber that makes them all possible.
Harvesting Hardwood Mats
I know, I know, hardwood mats are a lumber product and are not, in actuality, a growing, and therefore harvestable raw material. It was an attention grabbing headline, a cheap trick, and if you are still reading, then boy did it work! While we might have flexed the reality of the situation a little bit by implying that you can harvest a hardwood mat, we are here to talk about harvesting; so we didn’t entirely mislead you and play with your emotions for nothing. A hardwood mat is, obviously a product of a raw material, that material being lumber. Lumber, being a crop (it might feel weird to think of lumber as a crop, but in reality, it is just a crop with an especially long time from planting to harvest) is harvestable just like any other crop out there. There is an ideal age at which a tree reaches its maximum potential. There is a lot more that goes into the determination of that age but it basically all adds up to finding the moment where growth has reached its maximum rate and begins to decline, the tree is at a size that can be used in most if not all applications, and the wood is at its strongest point and has not begun to decline in quality with excessive age. Finding this magic moment is part of what goes in to the art and the science of forestry, and for the purposes of building a superior hardwood mat, it is a fundamental necessity. We are going to take a few minutes to look a little closer at this lifecycle and growth arc in hopes of better understanding hardwood mats, crane mats, and every other kind of wood mat you can think of. So let’s get started.
As is the case with any living thing, a tree has a life cycle. It begins with the seed stage (conception), moves into the sprout stage (akin to birth), the sapling stage (juvenile) and the mature stage (adulthood). After this mature stage, the tree will move into the decline stage (elderly age) and conclude its life as a snag or rotting log (death). And so the tree lifecycle continues generation after generation as trees drop seeds and future generations make their way through the cycle of life. Now, we thought about breaking into an old Disney song about the circle of life, but it didn’t seem quite right, so maybe next time.
Tree Ring Dating
Tree ring dating, while able to give a pretty good estimate of the age of a tree, does have it’s shortcomings if you’re expecting laser beam accuracy. The reality is that while in general tree rings give a pretty accurate picture of date, there are some situations where “false rings” will actually form. These are generally the result of some abnormal weather patterns resulting in two periods of accelerated growth, rather than a single, more continuous period of growth. There are also years of drought or scarcity where the tree experiences hardly any growth and tree rings fail to form at all. Now, these are exceptions to the pretty predictable pattern of tree ring formation, but these situations do occur and can confound precision measurement of age. There are other methods that can help determine tree age that have been used in tandem with tree ring dating to gauge tree age. An experienced forester or logger can easily determine relative age merely by looking at a tree, observing its leaf and vegetative patterns, and by noting its height and proliferation of branches and offshoot branches. Differing species of trees will show different indicators at different ages, and an experienced and trained eye can quickly gauge age with pretty high precision. These factors, in addition to the fact that most plots being logged were planted with the intention of logging and most plot owners have the specific dates the plots were planted results in a pretty accurate dating system for trees.
So, you might be asking yourself, “Why all this talk about age, I mean, after all, aren’t we talking about hardwood mats here? What does age have to do with it?” Well, my studious, challenging, and somewhat contradictory friend, we have good reason for wanting to know as much as we can about the lumber we use for hardwood mats. Harvesting trees is a pretty standard operation these days, with growth patterns and tree lifecycle information being pretty accurately tracked and understood, so it isn’t like we walk into the woods and cut a tree down to see how old it is. But, our heightened understanding of trees and their lifecycles is in fact the fruit of much diligent study, keen observation, testing, trial and error, and inherited knowledge. The accumulation of this knowledge and know-how is used every day by our forestry teams and those responsible for harvesting and ensuring a superior product.
A Look Back at Hardwood Mats
If you’ve been tracking along as we plod through our informal PhD degree work on hardwood mats and all things associated with hardwood mats, then you know that recently we’ve been getting pretty scientific in our exploration. We’ve spent a lot of time in the past focusing on the physics, the practical day-to-day applications, and the various nooks and crannies of the vast industry that is the hardwood mat industry. Over the last several months, our focus has turned more intently toward the biological processes and building blocks that go into the production of hardwood mats (i.e. the production and growth of trees). We’ve been taking a crash course through forestry and tree-ology in hopes of better understanding how a laminate mat, bridge mat, board road and crane mat makes its way from forest plot to construction site. It’s been a fascinating journey and the reality is, the further we explore the topic, the more nuanced and intricate the picture becomes. So to say we are nearing the end of the road would just be plain old crazy talk. With that, let’s get underway and keep looking at the fantastic hardwood mat. Picking up where we left of, we’ll finish our discussion of tree rings and move on from there. Tree rings are a fascinating and most likely under-observed, under-appreciated, and under-understood (two “unders” in this case don’t make an over, sorry) feature of trees. We all are pretty aware that tree rings roughly indicate a year of growth in a tree, and can therefore be used to help date a tree. Tree dating is not anything like online dating, or speed dating. I’d imagine that speed dating is one heck of a roller coaster ride, a lot like the study of hardwood mats and trees in general; but tree dating unfortunately will not fulfill the emotional needs a person can help to meet. In fact, tree dating has nothing to do with romance or courtship, but rather deals with ascertaining the age of a given tree. Sorry to disappoint those of you on here hoping to read a tale of romance and love. While we do love trees and hardwood mats, it’s less of an “agape” or “phileo” kind of love, and more of a “we really are obsessed with hardwood mats” kind of love.
Tree Rings and Hardwood Mats
What is a tree ring? What a good question! It might seem like an obvious thing (tree rings tell us how old a tree is, duh!), but in reality there is a lot that goes into tree ring formation and it would do us well to take the time to better understand this remarkable feature of trees. We use trees for just about everything (including hardwood mats), so we might as well know a little more about them. So, back to the question so kindly posed by our insatiably curious imaginary sub-narrator.
To understand how tree rings are formed, it’s important that we first learn that trees basically have two types of growth: primary growth and secondary growth. Primary growth actually occurs at the tips of the stems and roots and has the effect of the tree stems and roots growing taller or longer. Secondary growth occurs in the vascular system of the tree (called vascular cambium) and the barky part of the tree (called cork cambium). This type of growth results in the tree growing thicker around the trunk. Within the vascular cambium, phloem composes the outer layer. This is sometimes called inner bark. This tissue conducts food to the various parts of the tree. Xylem, located toward the inside of the cambium layer, essentially serves as the vascular tissue and transports most of the water and minerals throughout the tree.Xylem derives its name from the Greek word, xylon, which means wood. The xylem is, in fact, the woody part of the tree and is produced with more abundance than secondary phloem (which is added toward the outside of the cambium layer).
So here is where the magic happens. As the growing season comes to a close, the tree begins to slow reproduction of new material down. As this happens nutrients and minerals move more slowly through the outer layer of growth and begin to stain the material a slightly darker color. This leaves a narrow stain we call a tree ring! Whalla! “So what?” you might be asking. “What does this have to do with my hardwood mats?” Well, first of all, bad attitude; second of all, good question. The reason we care is this: it’s pretty cool. Using tree ring dating, harvesting of hardwood can be a more productive endeavor. Over the years of managing plots, monitoring growth, and using tree ring dating, the science of forestry has allowed it to become a pretty productive thing. This is important when you are building mats made from an organic material like wood. So let all that new and fascinating knowledge marinate for a while up in that fancy brain of yours, and next time you see a tree stump, give your newfound knowledge a test drive and count those rings! Remember the process of growth that went into each of those rings, and next time we come together we’ll dig even deeper into the world of hardwood mats, crane mats, bridge mats, board roads and every other variation of ground stabilization you can dream up.
No Bones About It – An Inside Look
If we spend too much time just talking about the usefulness of hardwood mats, we stand the chance of mistaking the forest for the trees and missing out on a whole world of wonder that we could be exploring while deepening our knowledge of hardwood mats. So, let’s go there. Let’s get our hands dirty and dig down to the roots of the industry and see what we can see. (If this feels a bit like Reading Rainbow or the Magic School Bus, sorry; sometimes you just can repress that spirit of exploration and you just need to shout, “Take a look, it’s in a book, reading rainbow!” or the hardwood mat equivalent “Take a look at a tree or forest or pipeline, it’s a hardwood mat or a hardwood mat in the making!”) So, seatbelts everyone! We’re going to get our hands dirty with hardwood mats knowledge. Before we do that though, I want to rewind to something that was said at the beginning of our little romp today. The idiom “forest for the trees” is a very interesting phrase, and given that we are, in fact, looking at both the forest and the trees, it might just be worth looking at and exploring for a minute. So let’s look at what the phrase actually means. To put it in more obvious terms, the idiom is basically saying that it is important not to miss the big picture by becoming too engrossed in the details. Similarly, by looking exclusively at the big picture (which can become the only detail we see) we can miss the nuanced factors that contribute to the larger whole. In this case we’re talking about exploring the details of an industry that, on the surface can seem one dimensional, but in reality has a lot of moving parts and details to explore.
Ok, after following every rabbit hole, straying trail, and A.D.D. impulse, we’ve finally arrived at our subject matter for today – trees and tree growth. We’ve arrived just in time to say goodbye for this week, so stay tuned and in our next installment we’ll get to looking at tree growth, tree rings, and hardwood harvesting for hardwood mats.